Phil Collins and Ai Weiwei make waves at Frankfurt book fair
A memoir from Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei, a “devastating” critique of austerity from former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis and a “warts and all” autobiography from the musician Phil Collins are among the deals setting this week’s Frankfurt book fair on fire.
Announcing its deal for Ai’s book at the world’s largest gathering of the publishing industry, The Bodley Head said it would be “an extraordinary cultural history of China over the past one hundred years”. It will be told through both Ai’s own life story, and that of his father, the poet Ai Qing, who was both an early intimate of Mao Zedong, and later sentenced to hard labour in the Gobi desert after being branded a rightist. The book will be published in spring 2017.
“I live in a totalitarian society (so did my father), which denies human freedom and values. Eliminating individual memories is an important method that authorities use to control people’s thinking. Therefore, such political culture has made it extremely difficult to write down one’s memory or those of a family,” said Ai. “I write about my father, his generation, and my own experience, our struggle for individual freedom and self-expression in this old society.”
Bodley Head also used the platform of Frankfurt to announce its acquisition of Varoufakis’s And The Weak Suffer What They Must?, out in April 2016, in which he will argue that austerity is a threat to the global economy, as well as giving an account of his role in Greece’s debt negotiations.
Phil Collins said earlier this week that he had struck a deal with Century to tell his story, the singer, drummer and songwriter revealing that he was now “ready to go on record about my life in music with all the highs and all the lows and to tell the story from my point of view, warts and all”.
Marlon James’s novel A Brief History of Seven Killings, which won the Man Booker prize this week, has been a hot property in fiction, according to agent Claire Roberts at Trident Media Group. “We’re over the moon about it – we’d sold it in a number of foreign markets before, but the Booker has really kicked off a tidal wave of interest around the world, and we’re negotiating in at least a dozen foreign markets,” she said. “It’s a magnificent achievement for Marlon.”
Major deals have also been struck for a handful of debut novels: Scottish author Gail Honeyman landed a high six-figure sum for Eleanor Oliphant, the story of a girl who doesn’t belong, after an eight-way auction, while Abbi Waxman’s debut The Vegetable Gardener’s Companion has been racking up foreign deals, and Canadian screenwriter Elan Mastai’s first novel All Our Wrong Todays landed an advance from US publisher Dutton Penguin reported at $1.25m (£800,000).
Waxman said it was thrilling to see her debut, The Vegetable Gardener’s Companion, selling to publishers all around the world. About a young widow who begins to overcome her grief by going to a gardening class with her children and sister, Waxman said “it took a while to write this book because I was also raising three young children, and could only work a couple of hours each day”.
But once she found an agent, Alexandra Machinist at ICM, “it seemed like only a matter of weeks before it was out there and getting a great reception. It was a very long overnight sensation, and if I can quote the late, great, Frankie Howerd, never has my flabber been so gasted,” said Waxman, who was born in Bath but moved to the US when she was 21. “It’s thrilling, really. But the first thing I did when Alexandra called me to tell me it was selling all over was to empty the dishwasher. Life goes on. I’m working on a sort of sequel now, where the characters from this book will make cameo appearances. I’m excited to get back to work … I worked in advertising for many years, and then quit to write books and have kids. The kids came quicker, but the books are easier.”
A host of international offers have also been made for All Our Wrong Todays, the story of a man who lives in a futuristic utopia, but who goes back in time to the real 2015. Agent Maja Nikolic of Writers House said that the international response to Mastai’s book in Frankfurt had been great. “Editors are tremendously excited to talk about this novel – about how special of a concept it is, how amazing the narrative voice is, and how well it crosses over literary and commercial,” she said.
Tory MP Nadine Dorries, meanwhile, continues her parallel career as a bestselling author of saga novels following a new “major” six-figure deal with Head of Zeus for three novels, which will follow the stories of three student nurses in Liverpool. Dorries’ previous saga titles have sold more than 750,000 copies across all editions, according to Head of Zeus.
The fair also saw China accepted as the newest member of the International Publishers Association – a move that was swiftly followed by the announcement of a new pledge from Pen American Center. Signed by 12 US publishers, it is intended to address censorship in Chinese translations of books by foreign authors.
The pledge says that many authors are unaware cuts are made to their work to comply with the Chinese government’s censorship regime, pointing to Andrew Solomon, who only discovered that sections from his book The Noonday Demon, a study of depression which includes details of his life as a gay man, had been cut from the Chinese edition after Pen compared the two versions years after its release.
The 12 publishers, which include Hachette, Macmillan and Penguin Random House, pledged to “require that any cuts or changes to the text must be approved by the author”, and to “work only with trusted Chinese publishing partners who will communicate openly regarding censorship issues”.
“These steps are intended to ensure that the principles of free expression that have underwritten our industry since its inception continue to prevail as we work with new partners and in new environments,” says the pledge. “They are intended to make possible deeper and richer engagement between international and Chinese authors and publishers, helping to support the free flow of ideas and literature worldwide.”
The Frankfurt book fair closes on 18 October.